What is Appropriate Summer Work Attire?

Learn what's not OK to wear to the office during those dog days of summer.

Trent Armstrong
4-minute read
Episode #91

What to wear, what to wear?  Many struggle with that question every morning, but it's often an even harder question in the warm summer months when all you feel like putting on is your bathing suit. That's probably why the poorer wardrobe choices tend to come when it's hot outside.  So, what exactly IS acceptable business attire during the summer months?

Work Dress Code Etiquette

Well, unfortunately this is not a question that can be answered easily from a general perspective.  Every business has a different dress code.  Some businesses scoff at the "no tie" idea whereas others would not dream of wearing a tie. For the ladies, this translates to pantyhose or no pantyhose.  So, let us begin by saying the best way to choose appropriate attire at work is to start with your company's dress code.  The employee handbook usually has a pretty specific description of what is and what is not acceptable to wear at work.  Stepping outside of this dress code is not a good idea. Not only do co-workers take notice, but soon they make the dress code violater the main topic of conversation around the water cooler.  "Did you see what so-and-so was wearing today?  Can you believe that? I can't believe no one has said anything yet!"-- and that is never a good thing.  This situation can lead to resentment as well, especially if everyone feels the violator is getting away with it.

Soon others will follow suit and that results in a human resources nightmare.  The key is to just be wise in your decisions.  Outside of the specific dress code, there are a few general rules that can be followed.

Don't Wear Anything Too Revealing

As a general rule, work should be a place where you dress more conservatively (well, I guess there may be a few professions where this is not completely true, but I'll steer clear of those "exceptions").  The number one summer wardrobe no-no is wearing clothes that are too revealing for work. Though summer may mean wearing less clothing, it doesn't mean you have an excuse to wear more revealing or immodest clothing.  Work is not the place to showcase anything you might remotely consider wearing when working on your suntan. In fact, as a general rule, if you plan to wear it on the beach or a hot date, you shouldn't wear it in the office. Aside from not wearing your bathing suit to work, that generally means not wearing anything too tight or short. Drawing attention to yourself is a distraction that the workplace doesn't need.  And not only that, it's not good for your personal career. Whether or not it's right, people judge us based on what we wear and how we present ourselves to the world. Wearing something that's too tight or revealing can only harm your professional reputation. Now, this does not mean you need to turn into Plain Jane or Boring Brad and fill your summer work wardrobe with stuffy clothes. You can still keep your personal style even while dressing appropriately. If you are ever in doubt, one good rule might be to imagine what your mother or grandmother would say about your outfit. Of course, this trick won't work if your mother is about as conservative as Cher.

Take Note of What Your Coworkers Are Wearing

Even the strictest dress codes often become relaxed in the heat of the summer. If you're not sure whether this means you can wear your favorite flip flops to work, take your cues from your coworkers, preferably your boss or the more senior management. If you notice your boss or your boss's boss baring their toes, then you can take that as a good indication that your new beach shoes won't draw the ire of Human Resources. If however, your boss shows up in 120 degree weather still wearing his faithful dress shoes, then you should probably stick to your more formal footwear, too. This doesn't mean you can't wear your flip flops on the way into work or when you're relaxing outside on your lunch break. Just keep a more work appropriate pair of shoes at your desk so you can change when you're on the clock.